OPINION: A rubbish solution to net zero

John Bell, managing director at GreenMine, discusses whether the UK’s landfill problem could solve the housing crisis.

OPINION: Landfill is a serious problem for the environment, and the world keeps generating more and more rubbish. According to a report conducted by the World Bank, the planet produced 2.01 billion tons of waste in 2016 – a figure that could rocket to 3.4 billion by 2050, representing an almost 70% increase in rubbish in just 30 years. We live in a throw-away society and now we’re paying the price.

John Bell

Landfill sites are partially responsible for global warming as they generate and release biogas into the atmosphere. Biogas is a mixture formed primarily of methane gas (CH₄) and carbon dioxide (CO₂), two of the gases that cause climate change and an increase in the planet’s temperature.

But why, in the developed world are we still grappling with the environmental and health challenges associated with poorly managed landfill sites, particularly in urban areas, when appropriate solutions are available?

Landfills are permanent, expensive, harmful to the environment and the population, and completely unnecessary when there is in fact a viable solution to convert the waste to energy, with zero carbon, zero toxic emissions, and valuable off-takes as by-products.

Whilst the solution is not particularly radical, the carbonisation of municipal solid waste has the potential to revolutionise the waste industry by enabling the mining, cleaning and repurposing of landfill sites for positive re-development.

Effective waste carbonisation technology is available now and it presents a tangible opportunity for environmental managers and investors alike.

Significant investment is however still required for us to deploy such a solution.

But could the UK’s landfill problem solve the housing crisis?

The development of much-needed new housing would provide a considerably better return to the community than pollution from landfills, and we must now work collaboratively as an industry to overcome the obstacles in the planning system.

Scientists tell us that to preserve a liveable planet we must reduce the amount of CO₂ in the atmosphere from its current level of 410 parts per million to 350 PPM or below.

Reducing the number of landfill sites reduces greenhouse gases. And we’re all in it together on the journey to net zero.

As a nation turning its focus on sustainability and more environmentally focused solutions for industry, the emergence of the rapidly growing green economy presents huge opportunities for positive change.

The green economy drives innovation in clean technologies, renewable energy sources, energy storage solutions, and sustainable materials, fostering technological advancement, job creation and economic growth, as well as climate resilience.

And, according to the London Stock Exchange Group, the green economy has grown at a compound annual growth rate of 13.3% throughout the past 10 years – significantly outpacing the 6.9% for global equity markets as a whole.

This is likely just the start. Trillions more dollars of investment are required to flow into the green economy to meet global climate and environmental objectives so not only does investing in green technology offer the potential for significant financial returns but also the opportunity to make a positive impact on the environment, society, and economy, aligning with long-term sustainability goals and creating value for stakeholders.

It’s time to start reclaiming our land!

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